It’s being called the “modern Heirloom.”
Seemingly a contradiction in terms, the launch of Giant Food Stores’ urban concept Heirloom Market in Philadelphia opens a new chapter for the 95-year-old retailer, enabling a rebrand in an increasingly competitive segment of the market.
The jury is still out on Heirloom, which opened January 25. But all signs point to a successful launch and a concept destined to expand Giant’s sphere of influence in the mid-Atlantic area. The culmination of a year-long series of market research and discussions with residents about the concept and its local merchandising strategy, it is the first of several Heirloom stores planned for Philadelphia.
The region is a retail hotbed, according to a recent analysis by real estate firm CBRE that cited several factors, including “attractive demographic and economic trends.” The number of people living in Center City Philadelphia — already one of the nation’s most populated urban centers — continues to grow, according to the report.
“A booming economy, in which jobs are plentiful, is supporting growth with above-average earnings. Consequently, consumers are spending briskly. Our analysis of achieved and asking rents across Central Philadelphia shows tenants are generally willing to pay more for street-level retail in 2018.”
Market growth means the retail landscape will be increasingly difficult to navigate, though CBRE says larger trends supporting urban retail remain in place. “A host of new retail concepts and service providers are emerging to occupy space in the face of sluggish activity from some of the more traditional retail drivers. As a result, we expect generally stable conditions to persist in Philadelphia’s urban retail market in the near future.”
Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant is ahead of the growth curve. The chain introduced its own banner in Philadelphia eight years ago, but Heirloom represents its first foray into the heart of downtown. The 9,500-square-foot store is in an area called Graduate Hospital, named for the now shuttered University of Pennsylvania medical facility and a magnet for young professionals and academics.
It is also a family-friendly neighborhood, home to an eclectic mix of small stores and restaurants amid refurbished rowhouses and apartments that are escalating in price and close to Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. The neighborhood’s popularity is likely to continue to grow and attract other food outlets like Sprouts Farmers Market, which opened its doors downtown last year.
“Philadelphia is a natural choice for us to debut our new Giant Heirloom Market format,” Nicholas Bertram, president of Giant Food Stores, said at the store’s opening. “We’re able to draw upon our passion for food and our fondness for local purveyors, all while leveraging innovation to bring something special to our new Graduate Hospital neighbors.”
Bertram also took the occasion to further solidify Giant’s commitment to the neighborhood, presenting Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other local officials with a $1 million check for Philabundance, the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley.
Giant, which is owned by Ahold Delhaize USA, was motivated by its parent company’s smaller stores in the Netherlands and made extensive use of group listening sessions in Heirloom’s new neighborhood to gauge consumer interest.
“We’ve had the privilege of getting to know our neighbors, and they are the true inspiration for our new store,” says Heirloom Manager Angel Cordero, a 20-year veteran of the grocery business. “I’m sure our neighbors will be just as excited to experience a store that connects them to real food, where every trip will inspire them to eat better — and for less.”
The Heirloom market is something of a throwback to the original Giant concept, which focused on bringing innovation and modernity to grocery shopping via a unique store experience and products that meet the needs of the neighborhood it serves.
The store’s merchandising is a sharp reflection of the area’s demographics and neighborhoods with everything from grocery essentials to upscale specialties like a sampling and blending station for olive oils and vinegars, plant-based foods and breads from local artisans. The store also features fresh produce from local vendors and an onsite produce chef to encourage experimentation and creativity among shoppers, who also prepares vegetables and fruits on demand.
Additionally, the store has kombucha tea on tap and a wide selection of imported and domestic craft beers and wines. Heirloom will also stock a selection of Nature’s Promise products, Giant’s organic private label. However, the heart of the store’s merchandising philosophy is its partnership with community vendors including High Street on Market, Isgro Pastries, One Village Coffee and Sarcone’s bakery.
While Heirloom is focused on food and flavors, convenience and technology have not been overlooked. In-store iPads are available for customers who want to place pickup or delivery orders with Peapod online for items that are not in stock, part of the company’s “endless aisles” philosophy. The store also has grab-and-go payment technology, similar to what Amazon Go markets introduced last year in San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.
Len Lewis is a veteran journalist and author covering the retail industry in the U.S., Canada, Europe and South America.
A crush of people taking pictures in a supermarket aisle usually means a celebrity sighting. Not in Giant. There, the attention-getter is Marty, a robot that finds spills, restocks shelves and will be roaming around most of the chain’s stores later this year.
Robotics has been a hot topic in retailing for the past couple of years. But the technology is moving beyond being a novelty into an efficient and essential part of retail operations in stores and distribution centers.
Marty, the 6-foot-3-inch gray robot with big googly eyes, moves around on its own using image-capturing technology to identify product spills and report them to human employees. It is powered by rechargeable lithium batteries and has multiple cameras and proximity sensors to keep it from bumping into shelves or shopping carts.
For the past year, Marty has been tested in stores in Harrisburg and Carlisle, Pa., and has proven to be so successful that the company says it will be in virtually all Giant and Martin’s food stores by mid-year.
“Bringing robotics and artificial intelligence from a research lab to the sales floor has been a very exciting journey, and we were thrilled by the customer response,” says Nicholas Bertram, president of Giant Food Stores. “Our associates have worked hard to bring this innovation to life with amazing partners.”
Marty was developed through a partnership between Ahold Delhaize, Giant’s parent company, and retail automation company Badger Technologies.
While Giant is initially using the technology to identify hazards, that is only the top of the iceberg. Bertram says the company would also like to use the robot for inventory management and to identify out of stocks. The technology is also capable of doing price checks and pinpointing discrepancies between the shelf and the store’s scanning system.
Badger is also reportedly working on ways to have Marty check and report food temperatures.